Ainsley Walters, Contributor
IT IS, indeed, ironic that less than one week after one of the worst race cards for the year was run at Caymanas Park, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), on New Years Day, started voiding races attracting 10 or fewer entries on all-weather surfaces.
The 10-race card at Caymanas Park on Saturday, December 27, was an embarrassment and testament to the ridiculousness of insisting on operating a system of claiming and condition racing in a one-track jurisdiction plagued by a rapidly declining horse population.
Caymanas Track Limiteds (CTL) sale was $30.2 million for the day. The race with the biggest purse, $1.3 million, had six entries from the overnight stage, ample time for a decision to be made regarding whether the event should have been abandoned.
It got worse. At the gate one runner was scratched by the vet after injuring herself. The fiasco continued when the overwhelming favourite bolted, reducing the field to four runners.
Therefore, starting Saturdays programme was an unprofitable six-horse field of two-year-olds, the $1.3 million Sweet Ruckus Trophy, won by a 1-4 favourite, an event the racing secretary deliberately placed as the first race.
In other words, the racing secretary realised the race was unprofitable and, hence, placed the event at the top of the programme, to get it out of the way, at a time of day when not much money would have been in circulation in the tote.
This was done in an effort to save his better races for the latter part of the racecard when wagering would have been at its peak in bigger fields, which, by the way, also turned out to be a fiasco.
However, no matter how much juggling the racing secretary did, one thing was certain. The purse for the Sweet Ruckus Trophy, $1.3 million, remains to be paid by CTL, regardless of where on the card he had hidden the event.
The Brits have solved that problem, as the racing secretary at Caymanas Park should, by recognising that field sizes determine the quality, quantity of betting and profitability of an entire race programme.
The 32Red Fillies Handicap at Southwell on New Years Day was the first race to be voided in a new three-month BHA trial after attracting just four declarations.
This what BHA director of racing, Ruth Quinn, said in launching the new initiative (Please, take note Mr Racing Secretary and team):
Short-notice race removal could offer an effective and targeted method of avoiding small-field races being staged, as well as bolstering other races as horses intended for deleted races are hopefully redeployed elsewhere.
KEY TO THE TRIAL
She added: Communication with horsemen will be the key to the trial being successful and we hope that the protocols put in place will be of assistance to this.
As for the remainder of the December 27 card at Caymanas Park, heres what happened. There were three claiming events won by horses arbitrarily dropped in class from higher levels, which could not have happened under a rating and handicap system.
The odds on those horses were 1-4, 2-5 and 4-5, not one payout doubled the minimum win stake of $50.
The return on a $50 investment, a win ticket, on each horse was $19, $21 and $45, respectively. How does CTL woo prospective newcomers to the sport with such a poor return on investment? This is typical of what happens under its claiming and condition system of racing.
Therefore, four of the 10 races were unattractive betting options, which eventually saw the company losing money on a turnover, overall sales, of $30.2 million.
Heres how that $30.2 million was broken down. Of that sum, 68 per cent, $20.4 million, was paid out as dividends to punters, leaving just under $10 million.
From that $10 million, nine per cent, $900,000, is allotted to CTL, its off-track betting parlours commission and government tax, a breakdown of four, one and four per cent, respectively. Lets round that off at $1m, leaving some $9 million.
From $9 million, deduct purses of $7 million for the day, including that $1.3 million first event and the three give-away claiming races mentioned, $1.5 million, altogether $2.8 million of unprofitable races.
That leaves a grand sum of $2 million for CTL to cover its raceday expenses of salaries, utilities, security, preparing the racetrack etc.
Is there still anybody out there wondering why horse racing is heading down a slippery slope, at breakneck speed, on full autopilot?
It all leads back to the tried, tested and proven formula that each race must be an attractive betting option for connections of horses, which is what rating and handicapping will provide equalising each runners chances by allotting weight based on performance.
Betting confidence is passed to punters by word of mouth thats the culture of Jamaican racing. If most in a field of 10 or more believe they have a chance of winning, the better the betting will be easy as ABC. This is not symptomatic of claiming and condition races in a one-track jurisdiction.
CTL does need to reduce its take from the respective betting pools and simultaneously increase its payout in dividends. However, even if the return (dividends) to punters is moved, from 68 to 90 per cent, if the races offered are not viable betting options, the racetrack would still end in the red, every single raceday.